The nationwide street protests following the gruesome murder of George Floyd, who was pinned to the ground and choked by a Minneapolis police officer and three accomplices, were spontaneous and diverse. No leaders, charismatic or otherwise put out the call for people to turn out in the face of militarized police legions. It was a wondrous display of civic self-respect.
Showing up is half a Democracy.
The New York Times asked some of the protesters who stood in solidarity, why they turned out? Their responses boiled down to inner compulsions that required action. A municipal employee in Minneapolis, Don Hubbard said “…I feel like if I don’t come out here, and we don’t all show up, then what are we doing?” and he added, “We’re letting this man die in vain.”
In Los Angeles, Beatriz Lopez replied “I felt I had to go. I had been asking ‘what can I do?”
Beth Muffett of Austin, Texas declared “If you’re not standing up for George Floyd, who’s going to stand up for you? It’s just a level of wrongness, that I couldn’t say no to going out to try to do something.”
Young Chad Bennett (age 22) from St. Louis – “seeing the video of what happened to Mr. Floyd left him “numb,” he said. “It’s a silent rage, I guess.”
The personal and conscience-driven feelings which arise from these people and many others are not uncommon.
These protesters are well aware of previous mass demonstrations that did not lead to reforms and did not even result in prosecutions of the felonious police officers.
“Not this time” is the sentiment of these seekers of justice against the broader criminal injustice system. The Attorney General of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, promptly brought second-degree murder charges against the knee-choking police officer. The signs carried by protesters called for defunding bloated municipal police budgets and using the proceeds for housing, education, and healthcare. “Abolish the police” speeches meant establishing community-shaped security for neighborhoods.
Even the presence of pre-meditated vandals destroying stores and other properties could not overshadow the historic continuing grievances of Black Americans.
They face racism daily. It is built into conditions of discriminatory poverty – no jobs or low-paid jobs, or unprotected work that is too often dangerous in nature. As tenants, many African Americans are defenseless against evictions and landlord safety code violations. As ripped off borrowers (payday loan rackets) defrauded consumers (the poor pay more for less), are grossly under-served by a wide array of public services, such as health care, crumbling schools, and inadequate mass transit where they experience on-going discrimination. They are arrested and imprisoned more often for similar offenses committed by white people. Then there is the obstruction or suppression of their voting rights in Republican states. They face public harassment and targeted racism while walking, jogging, or driving. Add it all up and their suppressed pain, despair, dread, fury, and fear for their children can’t be ignored anymore.
No matter how many books, articles, documentaries expose this aggregate life under “The New Jim Crow,” little changes. Even concerned politicians routinely break their promises to communities of color.
How then can this current moral force avoid dissipation once the media loses interest and the protesters become exhausted? How can such widely praised demonstrations produce real change?
Seize the movement. Immediately secure funding from enlightened or guilt-ridden wealthy residents of these cities to form full-time citizen watchdog groups leveraging the reforms demanded by the protesters. Some permanent presence must be established to thwart the status quo ante. That’s what seizing the moment means.
The collective street experiences must become the engine for massive early voter registration and voter turnout by Black and Hispanic Americans. Such a turnout is essential to replacing many of the corporatist racists like Senate ruler, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, with elected officials who will stand with and for the people.
The conscious raising of such vocal mass challenges to the dominant powers brings new leaders to the forefront to run for office, to forge new advocacy groups, to join existing groups, and to litigate and educate and motivate.
Innocent Americans died and were injured in these peaceful protests. Many others risked batons, harmful tear gas, pepper spray, and other weaponry. Awareness, authenticity, and resolve can be the products of such confrontations. These are seeds for a strengthened, enlarged democracy of justice, freedom, and equality.
Again, seize this moment! Big Time!
This commentary was previous published on RalphNader/blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.